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Top 5 Articles about OER

by Erin Cassity and Rebecca Renirie

Happy New Year! As open educational resources (OERs) continue to gain traction in distance and online education, we chose to take a look at the top five recent articles covering these resources from a library perspective. This is an emerging topic, so we expect to see much more research exploring OERs in distance librarianship in 2018.

As a reminder, to view the entire bibliography the Research and Publications Committee has assembled so far (2014 to present), please visit our Zotero library.


Elliott, C., & Fabbro, E. (2015). The Open Library at AU (Athabasca University): Supporting open access and open educational resources. Open Praxis, 7(2), 133-140.

Librarians at Athabasca University (AU), an institution in Canada that focuses on online and distance education, describe how they developed a stand-alone open-content website called The Open Library. The article begins with an introduction on openness in higher education, including the use of open access materials, OERs, and the advent of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). MOOC users in particular, who generally do not have a login to the institution hosting the course, would greatly benefit from a library website that is both easy to navigate and has resources accessible to them. The librarians would benefit from this arrangement as well, not only because of the cost savings of using open and free materials, but also in the opportunities to teach information literacy to users – to stress to both faculty and students the need to analyze and evaluate the resources they find.

To that end, librarians created a website distinct from the main library homepage featuring content that was exclusively open or free, and could be used by any user whether affiliated with AU or not. As the main library site was based on a modular display and tagging system, this Open Library site was able to exist as a sub-site of the main page that uses only that content tagged as “open” (the main website also contains the library’s licensed content). In addition, the website features not only open and free resources but tutorials instructing users in finding and using these materials. At the time this article was published the site was still being created, so it may look very different today; however, providing not only access to OERs but creating an entire website based around them shows the library’s dedication to helping its distance students succeed and reducing the cost of research materials.


  • The use of open and free resources helps not only students of an institution, but also anyone out there who would like to learn.
  • Use faculty suggestions for adding open and free content to a library’s suite of resources, to be sure it is aligned with course goals.
  • Beyond simply providing a list of resources for students to use, adequate description of those resources and other metadata is essential both for discoverability of the content and its evaluation by users.
  • Information literacy instruction matters with OERs, to help users find the resources they need and to understand what to look for in a quality source.

Miller, R., & Homol, L. (2016). Building an online curriculum based on OERs: The library’s role. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 10(3-4), 349-359. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2016.1223957

This article discusses a project from University of Maryland University College (UMUC), in which librarians took part in a team process to embed OERs and library materials into the undergraduate curriculum. Part of the University system of Maryland, UMUC created an initiative to replace all undergraduate class materials with OERs – specifically, OERs with Creative Commons licensing that would allow them to be placed permanently in online course space (helpful as the majority of UMUC students are adult learners taking classes online). After a general introduction to OERs and their advantages with respect to textbook costs, the authors discuss the opportunities a project like this has for librarians to work closely with faculty and academic support units to find materials for course. These materials could be open, or could be available through the library at no additional cost to the students.

The librarians worked in e-resources teams together with instructional designers, program chairs, and “subject matter experts” (SMEs), or faculty members experienced in each course and its content. After mapping the course week by week to the traditional textbook chapters, the program chairs and SMEs brainstormed additional keywords to use for each course’s broader content to help librarians in their search for both open and library subscription resources. Librarians provided the results of their searches including ebooks, links to search results in journal article databases, and OERs from major repositories and open textbook sources, to be evaluated by the SMEs and implemented by the instructional designers. While several courses needed waivers to continue using traditional textbooks (such as literature courses whose materials are under copyright), most of the undergraduate course materials were replaced with library resources and OERs. The librarians plan to implement a revision/replacement process to be sure materials continue to be up-to-date and the best available options for undergraduate courses.


  • Communication and follow-up within the team is important; the process of searching had to be revised as the project went on to streamline the librarians’ and instructional designers’ work, and librarians sometimes needed clarification on keywords that were too broad and/or lacked context. Also, faculty and instructional designers may not understand copyright restrictions on and licensing of protected content.
  • Librarians undertaking a project on this scale should set a time limit on how long they will search for content for a given course – in this case, 8 hours – and then send what they have to the rest of the team for review. Additional searching can be done if necessary, but to manage time effectively librarians need to limit how perfect a search can be.
  • A formal process is helpful to address broken links to library content, since reference librarians are often the first to hear about a resource that doesn’t work. Detailed instructions for creating persistent links are also useful, as sometimes instructional designers may just copy/paste a browser address when inserting a library resource into a course.
  • Focus on including library-owned ebooks that can be downloaded or embedded into courses. Distance students may prefer to work offline or (especially in the case of active military members) have sporadic internet access. In addition, provide a clear way to determine whether an ebook is licensed for single or multiple users, and focus on including only those ebooks that can be used by multiple students at once.

Smith, B., & Lee, L. (2017). Librarians and OER: Cultivating a community of practice to be more effective advocates. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 11(1-2), 106-122. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2016.1226592

Smith and Lee give a detailed account of the activities of the group BCOER, British Columbia Open Education Resources (now BCOEL, British Columbia Open Education Librarians), which was comprised of about 20 academic librarians from 2013-2015. The group formed in the midst of an upswing in attention and funding for OER by the provincial government of British Columbia. Many academic libraries put OER into the responsibilities of librarians without also adding professional development activities, so there was a significant need to share information on OER.

Initially, they functioned as a support group for sharing experiences, tools, stories, and troubleshooting in OER issues. BCOER evolved into a true Community of Practice that holds events for members as well as outreach to colleges. They created subject guides and faculty rubrics for assessing OER as well as other tools for facilitating and development of OER.  Their main focus is authoritative and sustainable resources that can be utilized by faculty and librarians at institutions that have not put an overall OER plan into place.


  • While academic librarians are an asset to any OER initiative, many institutions will not consult with the library in OER initiatives or will not support institution-wide initiatives. However, librarians can function as advocates for OER amongst faculty.
  • Without institutional backing of OER on campus, a consortium can provide tools and resources such as guides, rubrics, and wikis, in addition to support activities. This can be particularly helpful in avoiding duplication and promoting best practices. Their tools can be found at:  https://open.bccampus.ca/bcoer-librarians/bcoer-tools/

Walz, A. R. (2015). Open and editable: Exploring library engagement in open educational resource adoption, adaption and authoring. Virginia Libraries, 61(1), 1-16. http://hdl.handle.net/10919/52377

Walz provides a summary of OER, origins, applications, and opportunities for libraries. The first assumption underlying OER is that knowledge is good and that the internet is a good way to share information. While textbooks are often what faculty want, OER encompasses the full gamut of resources: Full courses, streaming videos, modules, tests, datasets, recorded lectures, assessments, tutorials, etc. Many are public domain and many are from third-parties; Walz gives a helpful overview of copyright law as well as Creative Commons licenses. This article might serve as a handy reference when presented with OER questions from users, both students and faculty.

Walz also highlights reasons for why many institutions are slow to adopt OER which leads into a section on the opportunities this creates for libraries. Essentially, she gives a primer on how to approach OER at one’s institution, answering the critics as to a perception of OER being difficult to use and find.


  • OER includes textbooks as well as any other support materials, use of which is guided by both US copyright law and Creative Commons licenses,
  • True OER must be (as the title says) Open and Editable, which gives the User a tremendous opportunity to customize content that typical educational materials do not necessarily provide.
  • Librarians can use opportunities such as course redesign programs as a way to get involved in promoting OER as a tool to fill content gaps in courses and take the discussion beyond textbooks.
  • Understanding faculty reluctance to OER and addressing those concerns can help librarians effectively promote OER.

Woodward, K. M. (2017). Building a path to college success: Advocacy, discovery and OER adoption in emerging educational models. Journal of Library and Information Services in Distance Learning, 11(1-2), 206-212. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1533290X.2016.1232053

From the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), this article describes how librarians can help to expand awareness and use of OERs on a campus with the goal of helping students to succeed. As an institution such as UWM moves more courses to online and hybrid formats, an opportunity arises to help students with alternatives to traditional textbooks which provide advantages in both ease of access and cost. The article begins with background on some barriers to OER adoption which include a lack of faculty awareness and understanding, discoverability of the resources available, and the time and confidence needed to search for and implement OERs in courses. These barriers provide opportunities for librarians to step in and assist in these efforts.

While other institutions have created OER projects from the top down, UWM libraries worked with the Open Textbook Network to co-lead a grant-funded student-centered OER initiative on campus. This initiative, in cooperation with the institution’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), focused on raising OER awareness among students, staff, and faculty, specifically in the area of open textbooks. Other academic units also partnered in this effort including the eCampus bookstore and the Student Association. The goal for the project was to replace the traditional textbook with an open alternative in at least one large enrollment course and two mid-sized courses. To accomplish this, librarians and their partners met with and received feedback from students on textbooks in general and OpenStax options; reached out to faculty and staff with workshops, meetings, and within research consultations; and studied the data available for freshmen persistence to identify courses with large enrollment and low student performance. The author hopes to move forward from raising awareness of open textbooks around campus to greater participation in implementing these resources within courses.


  • When initiating a project like this from the ground up, partnerships are essential to success; not only within the institution but from larger organizations that have expertise in OER awareness and use (such as the Open Textbook Network).
  • Be flexible in awareness efforts. UWM librarians provided multiple methods for students to provide feedback on both their awareness of open textbooks and their current textbook use, including whiteboard prompts, tables at welcome events and Open Access Week, and meetings. Similarly, when noticing low faculty attendance at workshops, librarians began reaching out to faculty members on an individual basis as well.
  • Find faculty who are enthusiastic and passionate about OERs and using them. This can help to create buy-in for other faculty members who may be hesitant about the content of the resources and/or the time it takes to discover and implement.
  • Having hard data in hand regarding student performance can assist in persuading faculty members that using an open textbook may lead to increased student retention and success.

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